Proposed Beltline path to take years to complete, but will offer serene recreation

There are many places along Hamilton’s yet-to-be-built Beltline biking/hiking path through the West Side where, except for the regular distant moans of train horns, it’s easy to believe a person is out in a remote forest.

Just a tenth of a mile west of North B Street, south of Combs Park and north of the Black Street Bridge, the serenity begins, not far behind houses along Summer Street and Webster Avenue. Further west, near Cleveland Avenue, it’s possible to hear water in Two Mile Creek splashing over rocks.

The rails from a former train spur that helped the former Champion Paper Mill move products to mainline railroad lines have been removed, but wooden railroad ties, buried to about the top of the ground, remain.

The 2.96-mile-long Beltline path curves its way westward and southward along or through several West Side neighborhoods from there, including Prospect Hill, Washington, Taft Place, and Highland Park, with the possibility of continuing beyond that someday further south, into the Armondale neighborhood.

Hamilton officials hoped construction would start this year on Phase I, between Cleveland and Eaton avenues, but that start has been pushed back until next year as the sale from CSX to the city took longer than expected. The sale closed in mid-August.

That half-mile segment will run between the area near the Flub’s ice cream shop and Neal’s Famous BBQ, past the West Side Little League, and end near Jim Grimm Park.

The Beltline path will take years to complete, mainly because city leaders will seek as much grant funding as they can find.

A bike path through the West Side was a very attractive idea Wednesday for Ronnie Coy, 47, of Hamilton, who was riding his bike along North B Street, and was harried by impatient drivers following him too close for his comfort.

“People are idiots, basically,” he said. “They’re reckless, they don’t pay attention. People on phones nowadays. People are on their phones, and they’re texting, and they go off to the right, and you’re riding right there on the curbline. That’s why a lot of accidents happen.”

He recently started riding on the bicycle path along the eastern shoreline of the Great Miami River.

“I didn’t realize how good the one that we have now is,” he said. “I didn’t realize it went as far as it did.”

He would use the Great Miami bike path more if it were better connected to parts of the city, he said. He likes that the proposed Beltline will run through neighborhoods, and the fact riders won’t have to deal with cars and trucks for much of the route.

On Cleveland Avenue, near where the Phase I segment will start, William Uhl, owner of B&B Auto Service, said he is about to sell the business he has owned 36 years, so the bicycle path will not affect him.

He is concerned for nearby residents, though.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I look at things different, I guess. I think it’s going to draw in some shady stuff, shady characters. Because there’s too many woods and stuff down through here.”

“They used to be a homeless shelter out here,” he said. “They had a big camp down here, and they finally moved them out. And then, every once in a while, I’ll see someone back there.”

Uhl, 74, who lives in Auburn, said, “There’s a lot of nice people who live out here. It’s a legitimate concern of what it’s going to do to the neighborhood. It’s just a path that could be used for something other than a bike.”

Residents of Hamilton neighborhoods have complained in recent months about homeless people, often riding bikes, stealing things from their homes.

Wade Johnston, director of Tri-State Trails, a Cincinnati-based organization that advocates for bike paths, said bike trails make areas safer.

“I think overall, there’s great precedent and examples for trails increasing safety in communities, because you get more people out, walking and biking, and creating presence where it might not otherwise be,” Johnston said. “And those people, if they see illicit activity happening, they’re likely going to call police. Whereas right now, that is an isolated rail corridor that from what I’ve heard has had litter and illicit activity happening on it that is otherwise unreported.”

“So we believe building the trail will increase safety and overall quality of life, because it will increase activity on that corridor,” he said.

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